How You Can Increase Strength and Speed Up Healing Just by Pressing “Play”

Right after I finish writing to you today, I’m putting on my running shoes, going outside, and taking a nice, long walk.

Although I’ve got a mile-high to-do list, I know taking the time to exercise will make me feel better.

Plus, it’s an essential part of my recovery. (As I’ve mentioned before, I’m currently at the tail-end of healing from five GI surgeries.)

Just before leaving the hospital, my nurse gave me some wise advice: “If you want to heal faster, your best friends will be protein, sleep, and walking.”

She couldn’t have been more right… I feel great. And I’ve only been getting stronger with each passing week.

In fact, I’ve been feeling so good, that I started playing gigs again with my band, The Sun King Warriors.

SOURCE: Jim Donovan
LEFT: Here I am, posted up in a hospital bed after my fifth GI surgery.
RIGHT: This was taken right after playing a set with my band, The Sun King Warriors, a mere five months later.

And I attribute my rather quick return to the stage to heeding her advice… Particularly the walking portion. I also found that listening to a playlist during my walks has proven to be incredibly helpful in staying motivated and pushing myself to walk a little farther each day.

And as it turns out, there’s actually a little science behind music and its ability to enhance physical activity.

How I used music to make my exercise more effective

So if you’re recovering from surgery or an injury, or just looking to improve your health, today I’ll share what strategies worked best for me, as well as what the latest science recommends.

As soon as I returned home from the hospital, I downloaded a walking app on my smartphone that helped me keep track of my steps. (I really like Under Armour’s MapMyWalk. It’s available on both iPhone and Android and is free to use!)

As it turns out, tracking my progress motivated me to get up and walk every day (particularly right after meals). I always aimed to surpass what I did the previous day, sort of like a competition with myself.

I was also still experiencing a good deal of pain at that time, so I walked very slowly. But after each walk, I felt so much better, which also helped me to keep at it.

Much of my major recuperation took place this past February and March—when it was still pretty cold in Western, PA. To “get my steps in” when it was too chilly outside, I walked “laps” around my house. And when it finally began to warm up, I walked through my neighborhood.

On each walk, I’d wear my headphones and make a point to really focus on the music.

This practice ultimately helped to distract me from how much slower I was walking, the discomfort, and pain…

I let the rhythms dictate my pace and I paid more attention to the lyrics. And often times, these walks afforded me the time and space to reflect on how grateful I was just to be walking again!

Don’t get me wrong, I love silent walks through nature, too (I recently wrote about the health benefits of that here)—however, I found music made it much easier for me to walk for longer distances while I healed.

Our bodies’ ability to mirror music

What is it about music that helps make exercise “feel” easier?

A 2019 study, published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise, shed some light on music’s effects on exercise.

The research team from the University of British Columbia in Canada, examined whether the right music could help less active people get more out of their workout—and enjoy it more.

For the study, a group of 24 participants completed three 10-minute, high-intensity workout sessions. Each session was comprised of one-minute sprints—each followed by a short rest period, in addition to warm-up and cool-down periods. During each session, researchers played either high-tempo music, a talk show podcast (without music), or no music at all.

Not surprisingly, they found the high-tempo music to be the most motivating for high intensity workouts. However, what surprised the researchers was the fact that the participants’ heart rate increased when they listened to the high-tempo music.

The lead researcher, Matthew Stork, remarked that, “The more I look into this, the more I am surprised,” he says. “We believed that motivational music would help people enjoy the exercise more, but we were surprised about the elevated heart rate. That was a novel finding.”

Upon further investigation, they found this was due to a phenomenon known as rhythmic entrainment.

Stork explains, “Humans have an innate tendency to alter the frequency of their biological rhythms toward that of musical rhythms. In this case, the fast-tempo music may have increased people’s heart rate during the exercise. It’s incredible how powerful music can be.”

In other words, music helped alter their heartbeats for deeper, more positive effects of exercise.

Entrainment also explains why people tap their foot or feel compelled to dance to music. (Here’s a perfect example of entrainment and the power of music—a clip from my band’s set at the Great Blue Heron Music Festival this past July.)

The study researchers concluded that, “Music can be a practical strategy to help insufficiently active people get more out of their workouts and may even encourage continued participation.”

To amp up your workouts, just press play

As I mentioned above, in my personal experience, I can say with the utmost certainty that music proved to be a great ally and healing tool for me.

It offered me strength when I felt weak, it provided me with a source of motivation, and gave me something to focus on—all essential things I needed in order to heal and get back to living life to the fullest.

The takeaway for today is that music is not only a natural and effective “fuel” to boost your exercise routine, but also a powerful tool in helping you to maintain it—perhaps one of the most challenging parts of all.

So if you’re having trouble getting into an exercise routine, all you need to do to get started is lace up those sneakers and simply press play.

Be Well,

Jim Donovan, M.Ed.

P.S. – To use sound to unlock your body’s inner-healing abilities, you might be interested in trying my Speed Healing Therapeutic Audio Toolkit. Simply click here to learn more about my newest audio tool, or to get your copy today!


Matthew J. Stork, Costas I. Karageorghis, Kathleen A. Martin Ginis. Let’s Go: Psychological, psychophysical, and physiological effects of music during sprint interval exercise. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 2019; 45: 101547 DOI: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2019.101547

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About the author

Jim Donovan M.Ed., is a professional musician and educator. He's an Assistant Professor at Saint Francis University where he teaches music and how the power of sound can help you experience a healthier life.